MIAMI, Fla. – The highly anticipated matchup of the game’s two most fearsome power hitters never materialized, but Aaron Judge still ruled supreme at the All-Star Home Run Derby. The major league home run leader at the All-Star break with 30 never got to face off against defending champion Giancarlo Stanton, who was eliminated in the opening round. But Judge more than lived up to his end of the bargain, hitting a total of 47 homers in the competition – including four of them over 500 feet. “It was a blast. I enjoyed every minute of it,” Judge said, “Watching all the other guys swing. Coming here early, talking to the media. Everything about today was fantastic.”
The New York Yankees rookie – who was booed in the pregame introductions by the pro-Marlins crowd – had the fans cheering for him by the end as he defeated Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins for the title. “I was expecting it,” Judge said of the initial boos. “They’re cheering on their guy. They want their guys to win. It’s all part of the atmosphere. I enjoyed it all.” Judge was severely tested in the opening round, but a late surge propelled him past hometown favorite Justin Bour in the most dramatic slugfest of the competition.
Bour set the bar extremely high, slugging 22 homers in the opening round, including six on consecutive swings. But Judge rallied with a string of late homers, including a 501-foot blast. He hit the eventual winner in the final seconds to advance to Round 2. He originally thought he had won on his previous swing, but umpires nullified his apparent home run because it hit the roof.
“I thought that one got out, but I guess it didn’t,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to watch it, I was so locked in, I was just trying to hit it and keep going. I thought I had 23 already, but I guess I tied him.” So Judge merely stepped back into the batter’s box for one final swing before time ran expired. Of course, he hit it out.
The semifinal round pitted Judge against another rookie slugger, No. 3 seed Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bellinger, who earlier this season became the first player in baseball history to hit 27 home runs in his first 57 career games, was no match. The Yankees outfielder clinched his place in the final with an emphatic shot off the windowed back wall at Marlins Park, 507 feet away from home plate.
With a contingent of robed and white-wigged fans among the 37,027 cheering for him from the left field seats, Judge laid down the law after Sano could manage only 10 homers in the championship round.
Judge clinched it with No. 11, a blast to straightaway center field with just under two minutes still remaining on the clock. “I had no pressure going into it,” he said. “I’m a rookie. This is my first time doing it. I’ve got no expectations. I’m just going in there and have some fun.”
The final matchup was a bit of a letdown with Stanton out of the competition. The Marlins outfielder lost to another rookie, Gary Sanchez of the Yankees, falling one homer short in bonus time – despite hitting 10 of his home runs over 440 feet and recording the five highest exit velocities of the round, all over 120 mph. Judge hit the longest home run of the competition, one estimated at a total of 513 feet.
The Home Run Derby title capped an amazing first half for Judge, who struggled mightily in his first taste of the majors last season and wasn’t even a lock to make the Yankees roster out of spring training. “I try not (to be) really worried about what happened last year,” he said. “I still remember it. I look at it every day what I hit -- .179. “For me, just trying to take it one day at a time really helped me out.”
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